2016 Photo Highlights

Editor’s note: My photos of the year, 2016. Clockwise from top left: Cinereous Vulture on Chongming Island in January kicked off a year that saw a parade of interesting sightings in Shanghai; ultra-rare Band-bellied Crake was the highlight of my three-week trip to a never-birded area of Heilongjiang; on 10 Dec. members of Shanghai’s ever-growing birding community had a big day out at Pudong’s Cape Nanhui; in a two-month expedition to Qinghai, meeting this Tibetan Lynx was my biggest thrill.

Happy New Year! This post is a photographic summary of my birding year 2016.

Unlike 2015, which saw Elaine Du and me visit the United States, in 2016 we never left China. We birded eight months in Shanghai, two months in Qinghai, and three weeks apiece in the Dulong Gorge in Yunnan and in Elaine’s hometown of Boli in Heilongjiang.


In a year that saw unprecedented numbers of good records in Shanghai, among them Nordmann’s Greenshank, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Swinhoe’s Rail, Black-naped Monarch, Crow-billed Drongo, Fujian Niltava, and Slaty Bunting, Elaine and I were on hand to record some of the rarities.

One of the best was Cinereous Vulture. I got this photo on 23 Jan. on Chongming Island.

Cinereous Vulture, 23 Jan. 2016. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
Cinereous Vulture, Chongming, 23 Jan. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Pomarine Jaeger was discovered at Cape Nanhui on 19 Oct., a first for Shanghai. The next day, Elaine and I got this image.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
Pomarine Jaeger/Skua Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, 20 Oct. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

A trio of Critically Endangered Siberian Crane took up residence on Hengsha Island around 12 Nov. On 7 Dec., I got this photo.

Siberian Crane, Hengsha, 7 Dec. 2016.
Two of the 3 Siberian Crane on Hengsha Island, 7 Dec. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Here are images of birds more commonly noted in the Shanghai region.

Grey Nightjar, Dongtai, Craig Brelsford.
Grey Nightjar, Dongtai, Jiangsu, 21 May 2016. (Craig Brelsford)


Northern Boobook, one of four we saw on 23 Oct. 2016 at Nanhui.
Northern Boobook, 23 Oct. 2016, Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)
Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Shanghai. Craig Brelsford.
Large Hawk-Cuckoo, 1 May 2016, Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)
Siberian Rubythroat, Magic Parking Lot, Nanhui. 29 Oct. 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Siberian Rubythroat, Magic Parking Lot, Nanhui, 29 Oct. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Dulong Gorge

From 16 Feb. to 5 March, Elaine and I were in Yunnan, where we explored the Dulong Gorge, a remote valley in the northwestern corner of the province. Birding there is excellent, and the views are sublime.

Beautiful Dulong Gorge near between Maku and Qinlangdang, 27 Feb. 2016.
Dulong Gorge between Maku and Qinlangdang, 27 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

After days of rain, we were rewarded with this moon-set at dawn on 26 Feb.

The sublime spectacle of the moon setting over the Gaoligong Mountains at dawn was our reward for enduring days and days of rain. Photo taken on Gongshan-Dulong Road near Kongdang on 26 Feb. 2016. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F/9, 1/320, ISO 640.
Gongshan-Dulong Road, 26 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

We noted 170 species of bird at Dulong. One of the best was Grandala.

Grandala, Gongshan-Dulong Road, 22 Feb. 2016. Elev. 1820 m.
Grandala, Gongshan-Dulong Road, 22 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

For its combination of stunning beauty and strong Himalayan character, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin was Craig’s Bird of the Trip.

For its combination of stunning beauty and strong Himalayan character, Rufous-breasted Robin was Craig's Bird of the Trip. Our team noted 44 members of Tarsiger hyperythrus in the Dulong Gorge, all but 1 of them adult males. I got this photo at Pukawang on 24 Feb.
Rufous-breasted Bush Robin Tarsiger hyperythrus, 24 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Birds have plenty of places to hide in the thickly vegetated Dulong Gorge. Sometimes we got lucky, as with this Chestnut-headed Tesia.

Chestnut-headed Tesia, Dulong Beach, 26 Feb. 2016.
Chestnut-headed Tesia Cettia castaneocoronata, 26 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)


Elaine and I spent most of the summer in Qinghai. We noted 195 species of bird, but our most unforgettable moment was supplied by a mammal. This is Tibetan Lynx.

Tibetan Lynx (Lynx lynx isabellinus), Kanda Mountain, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai, China. 14 July 2016. Elev. 4550 m.
Tibetan Lynx Lynx lynx isabellinus, Kanda Mountain, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai. 14 July 2016. Elev. 4550 m (14,920 ft.). (Craig Brelsford)

Tibetan Partridge was commonly noted in eastern Yushu Prefecture.

Tibetan Partridge, 5 July 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Tibetan Partridge, Kanda Gorge, 5 July 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Another great chicken: White Eared Pheasant.

A pair of White Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon dolani pause from their evening forage to gaze warily at the camera. Kanda Gorge, Nangqian County, 5 July 2016. Elev. 3980 m. White Eared Pheasant is listed as Near Threatened because of habitat loss and poaching. In Kanda Gorge, the species seems to be doing well. This pair was feeding in the open next to the road.
White Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon dolani, Kanda Gorge, 5 July 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

At desolate Hala Lake, elev. 4077 m, we found Tibetan Sandgrouse.

Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala, 10 Aug.
Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala Lake, 10 Aug. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Brandt’s Mountain Finch is hardy. It thrives at high elevations.

Brandt's Mountain Finch takes long, straight flights at altitudes above 5000 m. I found this individual near Hala Lake, Qinghai, at an elev. of 4400 m.
Brandt’s Mountain Finch, near Hala Lake, 9 Aug. 2016. Elev. 4400 m. (Craig Brelsford)

Henderson’s Ground Jay is master of arid scrubland …

Henderson's Ground Jay, scrub W of Chaka, Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. 30 June 2016. F/6.3, 1/6400, ISO 2500.
Henderson’s Ground Jay near Chaka, 30 June 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

… while Isabelline Wheatear is master of the semi-deserts of Wulan County.

Isabelline Wheatear 2/3. F/16, 1/320, ISO 800.
Isabelline Wheatear, Wulan County, 18 Aug. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

We had great partners in Qinghai. One of them was Michael Grunwell.

Michael Grunwell (at scope) and Mark Waters view Przevalski's Redstart at Przevalski's Site in the Dulan Mountains, 1 July 2016.
Michael Grunwell (at scope) and Mark Waters view Przevalski’s Redstart in Dulan Mountains, 1 July 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Landscapes in Qinghai are beyond beautiful. Here are my favorites.

Dunes and mountains, Wulan County, Qinghai, 17 Aug. 2016. This photo was taken at 36.826334, 97.965649, elev. 3380 m.
Dunes and mountains, Wulan County, 17 Aug. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

A closer look at the dunes.

The sand in these dunes was deposited grain by grain from the wind. Wulan County, Qinghai, 17 Aug. 2016. F/7.1, 1/200, ISO 1250.
Wulan County, Qinghai, 17 Aug. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

I used my iPhone 6 for this image of a Chinese Juniper gazing out at the Dulan Mountains. The tree clings to the slope at elev. 3960 m.

Proud and strong, this Chinese Juniper Juniperus chinensis has gazed out at the Dulan Mountains for 200 years. It clings firmly to the slope at elevation 3960 m.
Chinese Juniper Juniperus chinensis, Dulan Mountains, 1 July 2016. (Craig Brelsford)


From 26 May to 12 June 2016, Elaine Du and I visited her home village of Dawucun in Boli County, Heilongjiang, China. The area was never properly birded before we arrived there, and our discoveries have been many. The biggest highlight was Band-bellied Crake.

Band-bellied Crake stunned Elaine and me with its beauty.
Band-bellied Crake, Boli County, Heilongjiang, 8 June 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Mandarin Duck breed in Boli County. We found this drake in a small pool deep in Xidaquan Forest.

Mandarin Duck, Xidaquan, 3 June 2016.
Mandarin Duck, 3 June 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

In the Manchurian forest, woodpeckers abound. The most common species is White-backed Woodpecker.

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos leucotos, in wooded area off Road Z004 near Xidaquan, 1 June 2016.
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos leucotos, 1 June 2016. (Craig Brelsford)


Elaine Du is my wife and partner. The year 2016 was our third in a row of non-stop birding. Although she is happy birding and has put together an impressive life list, the Heilongjiang native is never happier than when she is in her hometown.

Elaine and Craig, Boli, Heilongjiang.
Elaine and Craig at home in Boli, Heilongjiang, 1 June 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Through thick and thin we tough it out. Here we are smiling despite being confined to our tent during a rain shower at Hala Lake.

Elaine and Craig waiting out the rain in the tent.
11 Aug. 2016, Hala Lake. (Craig Brelsford)

At Eling Lake in Qinghai, where the Yellow River and China are born, Elaine and I posed for this self-portrait.

'We Are Family!' sang Sister Sledge back in '79. Here's the Chinese-American adventure team, Elaine Du (L) and yours truly--partners, spouses, family. Eling Lake, where the Yellow River and Chinese culture are born. 3 July 2016. Self-portrait taken with my Nikon D3S and 600 mm F/4 lens.
Self-portrait taken 3 July 2016 with my Nikon D3S and 600 mm F/4 lens. (Craig Brelsford)

Elaine is a little short, but she never gives up. In Dulong Gorge, she improvised a way to see Grandala, a life bird.

Brian Ivon Jones (L) and Elaine Du viewing Grandala for the first time, Dulong Gorge, 19 Feb. 2016.
Brian Ivon Jones and Elaine viewing Grandala, 19 Feb. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Elaine is proud of the remnant Manchurian forest near her home in Boli. Here we are in front of a stand of Silver Birch.

The husband-and-wife birding team of Elaine Du (L) and Craig Brelsford, Xidaquan National Forest, Boli, Heilongjiang, 10 June 2016.
Xidaquan, 10 June 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

People like Elaine’s family put food on the table for the city folks.

Elaine Du (L) with parents and elder sisters. Dawucun, 12 June 2016.
Elaine (L) with parents and elder sisters. Boli, 12 June 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

The Shanghai Birding Community

In 2015 I started shanghaibirding.com and the Shanghai Birding WeChat group. In 2016, the number of readers of the Web site and members of the chat group steadily grew. On 10 Dec., the day of the Shanghai Birding Christmas party, I led a group of birders to Cape Nanhui. There we found a pair of Red-crowned Crane, a first for mainland Shanghai. Here is the group after the historic event.

Shanghai birders at Nanhui, 10 Dec. 2016. Photo by Hǎo Zhàokuān (郝兆宽).
Shanghai birders at Nanhui, 10 Dec. 2016. Photo by Hǎo Zhàokuān (郝兆宽).

Happy New Year 2017!

Shanghai Keeps On Poppin’

Elaine and I are in Heilongjiang and using the Shanghai Birding WeChat group to keep tabs on this eventful spring migration season. In recent days birders at Nanhui have reported

Crested Goshawk (29 May)
Asian Koel (3 June)
Fairy Pitta (2-5 June)
Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher (30 May-1 June)
Slaty Bunting (29 May)

Amazing records all.

Before Elaine and I left for this extended visit with her family, we had the pleasure of birding with Ian Davies from eBird and his buddies Nick Bonomo and Luke Seitz. Here’s how those days went down:

Sat. 21 May 2016
Dongtai and Yangkou

Yangkou-Dongtai today, Elaine and I with Ian Davies from eBird/Cornell and his buddies Nick Bonomo and Luke Seitz. Rain non-stop all day, extremely difficult conditions, missed Nordmann’s Greenshank and Spoon-billed Sandpiper but covered most other major waders, among them Great Knot, Red Knot, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, and Eurasian Oystercatcher. We had a fun encounter with Grey Nightjar roosting on road in forested part of Dongtai Surf ’n’ Turf birding loop. Lifers were piling up for our three young American partners, all on their first trip to China.

Fri. 21 May 2016. As darkness was falling, Elaine Du, Ian Davies, Nick Bonomo, Luke Seitz, and I were driving through the coastal forest in Dongtai, Jiangsu. I saw a log on the road and braked. The log was Grey Nightjar roosting on the wet road. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F5.6, 1/20, ISO 10000 (yes, ten thousand), mirror-up + cable.
Fri. 21 May 2016. As darkness was falling, Elaine Du, Ian Davies, Nick Bonomo, Luke Seitz, and I were driving through the coastal forest in Dongtai, Jiangsu. I saw a log on the road and braked. The log was Grey Nightjar roosting on the wet road. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F5.6, 1/20, ISO 10000 (yes, ten thousand), mirror-up + cable.

Yangkou is still good for waders but continues to lose its appeal. Haiyin Temple Forest has been turned into a menagerie, with the obligatory captive Black Swan as well as Blue Eared Pheasant and–get this–a pair of ostrich! The trees remain but the undergrowth has been pared back, limiting the attraction of the migrant trap to thrushes, robins, and bush warblers. Entrance to the menagerie requires payment, but we got around it by saying we were birders. Entrance to the entire temple-seawall area requires ticket costing 60 yuan per person. The entire sea wall around Yangkou is now fenced off and access to mudflats is in some places denied, notably at the well-known point ca. 10 km south of town where we have seen Spoon-billed Sandpiper so many times. Dongtai meanwhile continues its own transformation, particularly in the southern parts of the reclaimed area.

Sun. 22 May 2016

Yangkou again today with Elaine and American birders Ian Davies, Nick Bonomo, and Luke Seitz. Spoon-billed Sandpiper photographed in flight by Ian after our 4-man group split up on mudflats to cover more ground. Despite relentless search could not find it again. While searching we saw thousands of Red-necked Stint and hundreds of other waders and got soaked in the misty rain. At long-disused Magic Forest we found 33 species in 79 minutes, with Northern Boobook, Lesser Cuckoo, Tiger Shrike, Narcissus Flycatcher, and Forest Wagtail leading the way. The Magic Forest has been locked since 2013, but a guard let us use the area today. It was wonderful to bird the old place again. Our partners were wide-eyed at the richness of the Magic Forest and impressed by the mudflats. Ian trained Elaine and me on the eBird reporting system.

Mon. 23 May 2016
Yangkou and Nanhui

Yangkou and Nanhui today, Elaine, U.S. birders Ian Davies, Nick Bonomo, and Luke Seitz, and I (Yangkou), then Elaine and I (Nanhui).

At Yangkou mostly around Magic Forest north of Haiyin Temple. Ruddy Kingfisher, Purple Heron, Lesser Cuckoo 2, Asian Koel, Lesser Coucal 3, Arctic Warbler 3 singing, Chestnut-flanked White-eye. Ruddy Kingfisher seen by Ian and Elaine (life bird for both), tragically missed by me! (My view in Nanhui in Oct. 2013 remains my sole sighting of Ruddy King.) Temple Wood still productive (Eyebrowed Thrush, Japanese Paradise Flycatcher).

After dropping off Ian, Nick, and Luke at Pudong Airport, Elaine and I continued on to Nanhui. Black-capped Kingfisher, Japanese Para Fly 5, Thick-billed Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Richard’s Pipit.

Tues. 24 May 2016

Elaine and I again covered Nanhui, the coastal birding site in southeast Pudong, Shanghai. Highlights: Eurasian Bittern 1 booming, Yellow Bittern 6, Common Tern 1 minussensis, Common Cuckoo 18 + 8 Cuculus sp. that were probably all Common, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Black Drongo 28, Japanese Paradise Flycatcher 2 (1 calling), Arctic Warbler 3 singing, Arctic-type Warbler 30 (vast majority likely Arctic), Thick-billed Warbler 2 (1 singing), Narcissus Flycatcher 1 male, Richard’s Pipit.

— I had never heard Thick-billed sing before. This forest Acro was hidden in the crown of one of the locust trees in Microforest 1. The sound I recorded is below. The wind was blowing, lowering the quality of the recording, but the essentials are there. Note the typical raspy Acro sound, and note the much faster delivery of Thick-billed than that of its fellow Acro Oriental Reed Warbler:

Thick-billed Warbler, Shanghai, 24 May 2016 (01:53, 5.3 MB)

— The cuckoos were in full breeding mode, chasing each other and calling constantly.

— Elaine and I spent the better part of an hour walking along the muddy bank of a canal looking for Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler. On 21 May 2015 at Nanhui, Kai Pflug, Elaine, and I found this species. Was that encounter a one-off, or is Middendorf’s Gropper a bird that would be recorded more in Shanghai were more birders looking for it? I still don’t have an answer to that question.

Featured image: L-R; Ian Davies, Nick Bonomo, Luke Seitz, Craig Brelsford, Magic Forest, Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, China. 22 May 2016. Photo by Elaine Du.